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DDA's great opportunity to set best standards for sustainable housing

In a city starved of affordable housing, being allotted a DDA flat in the Capital is nothing short of winning a lottery. If you are lucky to make it in the draw, you get a Delhi address at half the market rate.

columns Updated: Sep 08, 2014 20:18 IST
Shivani Singh

In a city starved of affordable housing, being allotted a DDA flat in the Capital is nothing short of winning a lottery.

If you are lucky to make it in the draw, you get a Delhi address at half the market rate. You don’t have to worry about the legality of the property because the DDA’s housing projects come with full compliance with municipal building bylaws and structural safety norms.

It is a big guarantee for a home buyer in a city where for every legal construction, there are two built illegally, and house collapses kill more people than any other disaster.

No wonder there is a mad rush of applicants every time the DDA floats a housing scheme. The authority’s last scheme in 2010 drew 46 applicants for each of its 16,000 flats. This time, the bumper draw is also the DDA’s biggest ever. The 2014 DDA housing scheme launched last week has 25,034 flats on offer.

Controlling the biggest chunks of land in the city, the DDA is also Delhi’s biggest builder. Working on the socialist goals of providing Roti, Kapda aur Maakan to all, the authority’s housing schemes have been aimed at bringing about economic and social equity.

The DDA may have reasons to feel smug about offering the best deals in the city’s property market but one wished that the authority got a little innovative with its concepts and designs to keep pace with Delhi’s changing demands.

The Capital’s population is growing and its land stock is shrinking. Its natural resources are falling woefully short of surging demands. Today, the challenge of rapid urbanization is not only to provide affordable housing but also ensuring sustainable living.

Recently, the DDA chief promised better designed flats that get at least two hours of sunlight daily and still keep the interiors cool with minimal ‘Heat Island Effect’. One wished these features were already integrated into DDA’s standard architectural designs but better late than never.

There is a lot DDA could do to push sustainable living. For instance, it could offer flats that come retrofitted with solar panels and rainwater harvesting systems. There may have been an upfront cost involved but these days DDA doesn’t sell its flats so cheap.

In the higher and the middle-income group categories, DDA flats cost much more than they used to in the past decades.

In many cities, the big push to green construction has come from their public housing boards. Singapore has adopted an environment design strategy by not just improving natural lighting and ventilation in its public housing but also providing waste recycling chutes to collect recyclables. It has also built a separate network of pipes to carry non-potable water that is used for gardening and washing common areas.

Another striking innovation is Singapore’s vertical green project. The idea is to recover the amount of green land lost to building sites by replacing it in the vertical direction. While the earlier apartment blocks didn’t have balconies, all new flats now come with sufficient space for green planters, even on the higher floors. Rooftop gardens, sky terraces and high-rise farming is picking up in public housing.

In the Capital, the union environment ministry decided to walk the talk by moving into an energy-positive Indira Paryavaran Bhavan in Jor Bagh recently.

The DDA has also decided to go green by building an independent wastewater recycling plant for its head office at INA market. These are excellent initiatives but such one-off efforts can only have piecemeal effect unless we integrate certain basic elements of sustainable architecture into mass construction.

DDA’s function is not just to ensure affordability but also improve the quality of the housing stock available in the property market.

With the best available workforce of trained and experienced architects and engineers, the authority is capable of building flats that can serve as prototypes for sustainable architecture that private builders would eventually be forced by the market to emulate. With more than 25,000 flats in the pipeline, it’s time DDA sets the benchmark.